FONTANA, Calif. -- Starting in his 100th Winston Cup event, Pennzoil driver Steve Park began the NAPA Auto Parts 500 in the seventh position, his best effort on the 2-mile oval at California Speedway. When the race would come to a close nearly ...
FONTANA, Calif. -- Starting in his 100th Winston Cup event, Pennzoil driver Steve Park began the NAPA Auto Parts 500 in the seventh position, his best effort on the 2-mile oval at California Speedway. When the race would come to a close nearly 3-1/2 hours later, Park proved that he is someone to contend with in 2001 by running in the top five and, then after several unscheduled pit stops late in the race, maneuvered past 12 cars with less than 20 laps remaining to finish 15th.
Making adjustments during the first pit stop, the Pennzoil pit crew returned Park to the track in 16th, gaining nine positions with a 14.52-second pit stop. Staying around that spot until pitting again, Park was once again needed the Pennzoil Chevrolet freed-up so it would get off the corner better. During the next round of green flag runs, Park steadily moved through the field and had one of the fastest cars on the track.
After teammate Michael Waltrip brought out the fourth caution of the afternoon when he got into the wall, Park returned to the track in the fourth position following another great pit stop. With just 75 laps remaining to the 250-lap event, Park was running in the fourth spot after just attempting to pass Jeff Gordon for the second position. Pitting at lap 195, Park still ran up in the top 10 but knew he would have to return again for at least fuel. The opportunity to pit again occurred at lap 210 when another caution flag fell at lap 208.
With almost everybody else staying out, Park fell to the back of the lead lap cars in 27th. Feeling like something was wrong with the car, Park found it difficult to move back to the front. With nothing to lose, crew chief Paul Andrews brought Park back down into pit road when the caution came out again at lap 225. Returning to the pits several times during that caution, the Pennzoil crew made sure nothing was wrong or broken to inhibit his performance. When the field returned to green flag racing with 19 laps remaining, Park was posted in the 27th position. Assured that everything was okay with the Monte Carlo, Park began his quest back toward the front and, in those waning laps, maneuvered the #1 Pennzoil Chevrolet past 12 cars to finish 15th.
"The car was real tight early in the race," said Park, who sits eighth in the points standings, 214 points behind current leader Dale Jarrett. "Paul (Andrews) and the guys kept working on the Pennzoil Chevrolet to free it up and we found the right combination late in the race. After that late pit stop, I really felt like something was broken, whether it be a spring or something, but the car just got incredibly loose. The guys assured me that nothing was wrong, so I went back out and passed as many cars as I could."
Race winner Rusty Wallace scored his first victory in 2001 and his 54th career victory. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and last year's winner, Jeremy Mayfield, completed the top five.